The bars show each year’s average temperature variance compared to the 20th century average. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

A friend has been doing some moonlighting work that takes her door to door. She wears a mask. In the course of one transaction deep in the woods near Somerset County, a gruff but friendly older guy asked her if she believes in “this COVID stuff.”

My friend, spotting potential friction that might be bad for business, skirted the question. “I just hope everybody’s staying safe,” she said.

The older guy, spotting her deflection, said, “How many people do you know who’ve had it?”

She couldn’t think of anyone instantly, so she said, OK, I see what you mean, or words to that effect. The older guy smiled, believing he’d proved his point. (When she told me the story later, I reminded her that her brother-in-law in Cumberland County had a confirmed case of COVID-19 that was bad, but not bad enough to go to the hospital, and that her brother in California had been quite sick in February (before President Trump thought testing was important enough to discourage) with something his doctor later advised him was probably COVID-19. Anyway.)

There is a certain common wisdom that if it’s not happening at your house, it’s not happening. Very believable, especially when powerful leaders surround it with preposterous words like “hoax.”

The disbelief in COVID-19 is very similar to — probably an extension of — the disbelief in climate change, which probably does not appear to be happening at your house either. It still gets cold in winter, right?

But like COVID-19, climate change is, in fact, happening and getting worse by the day in different parts of the world. Unnecessary suffering and death will result.

I don’t know what else to do except to keep pointing to facts from the real world. Some of the following might sound like you’ve heard them here before, but you haven’t. These are from the last three months:

•  In mid-July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote that there’s already “around a 35% chance 2020 will dethrone 2016 as the warmest on record.”

•  Each of the first five months of 2020 was either the warmest or second-warmest on record for the U.S.

•  After an unusually mild winter, Siberia is undergoing record-breaking heat and enormous wildfires for the second summer in a row. The unofficial highest temperature ever recorded above the Arctic Circle hit 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on June 20 in Verkhoyansk in Siberia, during an 11-day stretch when the temperature hit or exceeded 86 F every day. The average high there for that time of year is 68.

•  On July 27, Portland had its highest low temperature ever recorded, 78. The previous record high for daily low temperature was 76 on July 21, 2019, and July 22, 2011, according to WLBZ meteorologist Keith Carson.

•  A study determined that in nearly every part of the world, heat waves have been increasing in frequency and duration since the 1950s.

•  Another study found that the South Pole has warmed by about 1.8 degrees Celsius over the past 30 years, which is three times the global average.

•  And yet another found that the statistical probability for the occurrence of Category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes increased by about 8% per decade between 1979 and 2017. The researchers attribute this increase to climate change, which is caused mainly by humans filling the air with 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.

•  According to NOAA, 14 weather-related disasters causing more than $1 billion in damage occurred last year. It was the fifth year in a row with 10 or more such costly disasters, double the average over the past four decades. Private insurers are starting to decline offering flood insurance.

 

WHAT THE U.S. IS DOING ABOUT IT

•  In June, the EPA issued a rule curtailing provisions of the Clean Water Act that specify how long industrial projects such as oil pipelines can be reviewed for their environmental impacts. States and tribes are now limited to one year of study, and may not consider water quality except when judging permits.

•  The EPA decided not to impose restrictions on the use of perchlorate, a chemical compound that contaminates water and has been linked to infant brain damage. A scientific finding that declared perchlorate a serious health risk was also overturned.

•  In June, the president issued an executive order waiving requirements for environmental reviews of infrastructure projects to be built during the pandemic crisis.

•  This month, the Trump administration announced that a gold and copper mine proposed for Alaska, which would be the largest of its kind in North America, would not pose serious environmental risks. The Obama administration had determined such a mine would permanently damage sockeye salmon in the region.

•  This month the Trump administration ended bans on bear-baiting, shooting swimming caribou from a boat, and shooting animals from airplanes in national preserves in Alaska.

•  Against the grain: Maine has joined 14 other states and D.C. in a nonbinding agreement to support the sale and use of fully electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles such as pickup trucks, school buses and tractor-trailers, in order to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution. The agreement calls for all such vehicles sold in the state to be electric by mid-21st century. The other states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont.

This winter I wrote that maybe the tide has turned on climate change denial. That was before pandemic-denial started swallowing people’s minds whole. Now I don’t know what to think. But real-world events suggest that voting this November is going to be almost literally a matter of life and death.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His book “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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